Bankrolling Genocide

by Sonali Kolhatkar

Americans are funding a genocide and no one asked our permission.

We are being dragged, unwillingly, into a war that is decimating a people. We are being forced to become involuntary accomplices to mass slaughter.

Palestinians, on the basis of their legal right against being wiped out, have filed a major lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s administration for funding Israel’s ongoing pogrom in Gaza, one that has killed more than 11,000 people, including 4,700 children. Represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the plaintiffs include Palestinians who have collectively lost at least 116 family members to U.S.-funded Israeli military attacks.

The U.S. has sent Israel a total of about $317 billion in inflation-adjusted tax-payer money, which amounts to more than $4 billion annually. Almost all that funding has gone toward the Israeli military. Israel is the largest recipient of American foreign aid, receiving more money than what we give to far larger, far poorer nations, ones that have a far greater post-colonial claim to Western aid.

Now, the U.S. Congress and the Biden administration want to give even more of our tax dollars to Israel, specifically to continue bankrolling the unfolding genocide. They are quibbling over the political strings attached to the aid but are united in their desire to send the supplemental funds.

But, according to CCR, “The United States has a duty under Article 1 of the Genocide Convention to prevent and punish acts of genocide, an obligation the U.S. Congress made law in 1988.” It’s not just the number of dead Palestinians that ought to result in a withholding of U.S. aid but the fact that Israeli officials have been overt about their genocidal aspirations.

The lawsuit offers evidence of how various Israeli politicians have referred to Palestinians with dehumanizing language such as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who promised that the “human animals” in Gaza would suffer the consequences of his order for “a complete siege on the Gaza Strip,” resulting in “no electricity, no food, no fuel.”

Days into Israel’s bombing campaign, United Nations Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese warned on October 14, 2023, of a grave danger of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, saying, “The international community has the responsibility to prevent and protect populations from atrocity crimes.” Referring to the first great displacement that Palestinians suffered, Albanese added, “There is a grave danger that what we are witnessing may be a repeat of the 1948 Nakba, and the 1967 Naksa, yet on a larger scale.”

At the time Albanese made the warning, Israel had killed 1,900 Palestinians.

A month later, on November 13th, Israel’s Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter described his nation’s bombing campaign with a concise phrase, worthy of an operational name for planned genocide: “Gaza Nakba 2023. That’s how it’ll end.”

By then the official death toll of Palestinians was more than 11,000. United Nations experts warned that “the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide,” and, added, “Israel’s allies also bear responsibility and must act now to prevent its disastrous course of action.”

One journalist named Chris McGreal, wrote in The Guardian, “I covered the Rwandan genocide as a reporter. The language spilling out of Israel after the butchery of the Hamas attacks is eerily familiar.” McGreal also correctly called out U.S. elected officials such as Senator Lindsey Graham for picking up the pitchfork and joining the violent mob. “We are in a religious war here. I’m with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place,” said Graham.

It’s a simple calculus: Israeli officials promise to wipe out people who they view as less than human, with the full blessing and financial might of the U.S. The predictable outcome is a fulfillment of their promises, one that is happening in real-time. Not only are politicians responsible for Palestinian genocide, but so too is the media for uncritically reporting on the explicit goals and desires of genocidal maniacs.

Why shouldn’t we believe leaders when they tell us exactly who they are and what they intend to do? History is replete with naïve denials of stated intentions to violate human decency even as crimes unfold in plain sight. Recall that when Donald Trump told the nation in 2015 that he would launch a white supremacist presidential bid media outlets refused to call him a racist until several years later after the damage was done and he was in the White House. Hate crimes surged against Black people, Latinos, Muslims, and Jews. It wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that media outlets finally decided it was okay to label him a racist—that too after much hand-wringing. About a year and a half later, Trump mobilized an attack on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021 in what legal experts describe as an “insurrection” by a majority white mob. Trump told us who he was. Mainstream media outlets refused to believe him until it was too late.

We’re seeing a familiar hand-wringing today. Take the New York Times’s insistence on using euphemisms like “extremist,” “incendiary,” and “inflammatory” to avoid describing Israeli officials’ language and the Israeli military’s actions as genocidal.

This type of discussion dilutes an understanding of Israel’s stated goal by attempting to grapple with the technical definition of genocide. For example, Omer Bartov, a professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Brown University wrote in a November 10th New York Times op-ed that, “I believe that there is no proof that genocide is currently taking place in Gaza.” Still, Bartov admits that his “greatest concern watching the Israel-Gaza war unfold is that there is genocidal intent, which can easily tip into genocidal action.” (Notice how he doesn’t say “Israel has genocidal intent”—a common use of the passive voice to dilute blame.)

Countering this concern in comments to Vox, Raz Segal, an associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University asked, “How many Palestinians need to die for these statements [by Israeli officials] to be recognized as what they are?”

It is the job of journalists to warn against abuse, exploitation, and corruption, and to shine a light on power so that an informed citizenry can decide on the course of its government. Many journalists are indeed speaking out against sidestepping the responsibility to report on genocide. More than a thousand have signed on to a letter saying they “hold Western newsrooms accountable for dehumanizing rhetoric that has served to justify ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”

That ethnic cleansing is in full force. CCR’s lawsuit is seeking an injunction to immediately block U.S. tax dollars from supporting Israel’s war in a concrete effort to block the genocide, or at least wash the stain of Palestinian blood off American hands. Meanwhile, public support for U.S. aid to Israel has dropped, with more Americans now opposed to the military assistance than supporting it according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll. Nearly 70 percent support a ceasefire.

International leaders, government offices, and media institutions, often ignore or deny genocides as they are unfolding, express regret after it’s too late, and then make promises of “Never again.” When warning signs of the next genocide arise, the cycle repeats. It’s up to us to stop it and we have that chance right now.

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Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her most recent book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Is our Wandering Photographer sending us a signal? Is this some veiled threat? Hah. After all these years squatting in the comfort of our paper storage facility, he’s far too old and soft to ever take to the rails again.

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House GOP to Hold Hearing on Social Security ‘Death Panel’

by Jake Johnson

The Republican-controlled House Budget Committee convened a hearing Wednesday to examine legislation that would establish a so-called fiscal commission for the U.S. debt, a proposal that critics have called a Trojan horse for Social Security and Medicare cuts.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), a longtime proponent of Social Security cuts, described such a commission as one of his top priorities after winning the gavel last month, and right-wing organizations such as the Koch-connected group FreedomWorks have endorsed the idea.

A fiscal commission of the kind backed by congressional Republicans and some conservative Democrats—including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—would be tasked with analyzing Social Security, Medicare, and other U.S. trust fund programs and developing policy recommendations ostensibly aimed at improving the programs’ finances. The policy proposals would then be put on a fast track in both the House and Senate.

Social Security Works and other progressive organizations have stressed that Social Security does not add to the federal debt and warned against the growing push for a fiscal commission.

“That’s code for a death panel designed to cut Social Security and Medicare behind closed doors,” Social Security Works wrote in a social media post on Monday in response to the impending hearing.

“MAGA Mike Johnson and his fellow Republicans desperately want this commission to give bipartisan cover to benefit cuts,” the group added. “Democrats must stand united against it.”

The House Budget Committee’s Wednesday hearing will feature testimony from Manchin and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who earlier this month teamed up to introduce legislation that would establish a 16-member bipartisan, bicameral fiscal commission comprised of 12 elected officials and four outside experts.

Manchin and Romney have both said they’re not running for reelection next year.

Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, called Manchin and Romney “cowards” who are “quitting and heading out of town, but want to set up a closed-door commission to cut Social Security and Medicare on the way out the door.”

According to a legislative summary released by Manchin’s office, the commission would “produce a report and propose a package of legislative solutions to improve the long-term fiscal condition of the federal government, stabilize the ratio of public debt to GDP within a 15-year period, and improve solvency of federal trust funds over a 75-year period.”

“If the commission approves proposed legislative language, it would receive expedited consideration in both chambers,” the summary continues. “While 60 votes would be required to invoke cloture prior to final passage in the Senate, only a simple majority would be needed for the motion to proceed, which would be privileged.”

Manchin and Romney’s bill is one of three pieces of legislation that the House Budget Committee discussed during Wednesday’s hearing. The committee is chaired by Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), a fiscal commission supporter and member of a Republican panel that called for raising the Social Security retirement age earlier this year.

Progressive lawmakers and organizations have argued that instead of cutting benefits, Congress could ensure Social Security is fully funded for the next seven-plus decades and expand benefits by lifting the payroll tax cap that allows the rich to avoid taxes on annual income over roughly $160,000.

“All of the options for eliminating Social Security’s projected shortfall, manageable in size and still a decade away, are fully understood,” more than 100 advocacy groups wrote in a letter to members of Congress earlier this month. “The only reason to make changes to Social Security via a closed-door commission is to cut already modest earned benefits—something the American people overwhelmingly oppose—while avoiding political accountability.

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Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

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Sixty years after CBS’s Walter Cronkite removed his black-framed glasses and reported that the President had been shot, the streaming service Paramount+, formerly known as CBS All Access, reports where exactly he was hit. At this rate, we’ll finally have all the relevant facts about JFK’s assassination during the third presidential term of Jared Kushner’s grandson.

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Corporate America Just Threw A Party Celebrating Tax Cuts For The Ultrarich

by Igor Volsky

After narrowly avoiding a shutdown for the second time in less than two months, lawmakers went home to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday without making sustained investments in the critical programs that empower millions of American families and enable our economy to thrive.

Programs that provide nutritional assistance to women and children or offer housing assistance will face multiple funding cliffs early in the new year because extremists in Congress are only interested in advancing the economic interests of the very rich—and partying with them.

Just hours after avoiding a shutdown, tax policy wonks, lawmakers, and staff, polished their shoes, pressed their tuxedos, and attended “Tax Prom,” an annual fundraiser to support the anti-tax Tax Foundation. The organization is a classic D.C. deficit squawk: it flies its Wall Street coop when big corporations want tax cuts, and screeches when it’s time to invest in the rest of us.

For instance, the organization advocated for Presidents George W. Bush’s and Donald Trump’s tax cut packages, both of which were disproportionately skewed toward the very rich and large corporations, but lowered overall revenue to just 16.5 percent of GDP in fiscal year 2023 and caused the national deficit to grow.

On May 17th of this year, Scott Hodge, the organization’s President Emeritus, seized on the growing debt to warn the Senate Budget Committee that “the only sustainable solution to stabilize the debt” isn’t increasing revenue or ensuring the wealthiest among us pay their fair share in taxes—it’s “controlling spending.” In other words: cut Medicare, Social Security, and other critical programs working Americans rely on.

Sounds familiar, right?

And while it’s no surprise to see conservative economic luminaries and corporate sponsors from big oil, pharma, and the tax prep industry attending and funding the annual celebration, the Foundation’s ability to attract support from more progressive voices is more alarming.

In past years, the Foundation has honored Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, former Senator Max Baucus, and Rep. Richard Neal. In 2023, it bestowed its distinguished service award on Sen. Maggie Hassan—the first time the Foundation celebrated an elected Democrat for “their efforts to advance sound tax policy” since 2016.

That may not be coincidental, since deficit squawks are building momentum for a new round of policies that benefit the ultrarich.

It comes at a time when our economy, powered by the administration’s hard-fought public investments, continues its record-breaking recovery. Real economic growth was at 4.9 percent last quarter, unemployment is below 4 percent for the 20th straight month, and workers are banding together and demanding more, leading to strong wage growth and a wave of union organizing.

Deficit squawks, meanwhile, are loudly—and predictably—trying their best to turn back this economic progress by proposing significant cuts to the social programs that help power our economy and by constantly bringing the government to the brink of shutdown. They’re also ringing the alarm about the nation’s growing level of debt and calling for a bipartisan fiscal commission to address the so-called crisis.

Deficit squawks seek to reverse the progress we’ve made investing in workers, families, and the economy in order to invest in the wealthiest Americans and large corporations. It’s clear deficit squawks are stuck in the past, advocating for economic policies that are as unpopular and out of date as pale blue ruffle suits. Elected officials committed to building a modern economy that works for all of us should leave Tax Prom in the past.

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Igor Volsky is the director of Stop Deficit Squawks, a project dedicated to exposing organizations dedicated to protecting wealthy and huge corporations while dismantling vital and popular programs like Social Security and Medicare. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

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Thankfulness Buried in the Rubble

by Robert C. Koehler

Much as I love Thanksgiving—seeing my family… oh the turkey, oh the cranberry sauce—I feel like maybe a bomb fragment has hit the “thanks” part.

I find myself struggling to let a sense of thankfulness flow, because when I do—and doing so has always been a crucial part of the holiday—suddenly my gratitude for the blessings of my life starts to feel more like luck and, even worse, privilege. Yeah, how nice. I’m thankful for the books in my library. I’m thankful for the air I breathe, for my daughter, my sister, my nieces and nephews and all the friendship, all the love, that fortifies my life. But then… .

As I give thanks to the walls of my house, as I kiss the computer at which I sit, I hear bombs flying and suddenly I can envision all of it… all of it, all of it… being taken from me in an instant. I envision digging for a child in the rubble.

Yes, this current war that is saturating the media—Israel’s assault on Gaza, funded by the United States, emerging from seven and a half decades of Israeli occupation of Palestine—has entered my consciousness in a way I can’t seem to ignore. It’s only one of several hellish wars festering on Planet Earth right now, but I can’t stop hearing the Israeli defense minister seeming to explain all of them: “We are fighting human animals.”

And once again, genocide is just and righteous and necessary. And history’s soul cracks open. The story of Thanksgiving is two cultures embracing and sharing a feast of life. But then one of the cultures stole the continent. As New York Times reporter Maya Salam wrote some years ago: “Thanksgiving facts and Thanksgiving myths have blended together for years like so much gravy and mashed potatoes, and separating them is just as complicated.”

Yeah, stir in the genocide. Stir in the slavery. The holiday starts renaming itself: Thankstaking.

Here’s a frequently left-out fragment of the Thanksgiving story. It’s the story of Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, a member of the Wampanoag tribe in the 1600s. He’s known to be the Pilgrims’ rescuer who, after half the Pilgrim settlers had died during a harsh winter, taught those who were left some necessary survival skills, including how to catch eel and grow corn.

But, according to Potawatomi.org, Tisquantum’s story is “less innocent than the narrative that he assisted the Pilgrims with teaching them how to grow crops and take advantage of North America’s bounties.”

What’s generally not mentioned in the classroom is that six years before the Mayflower arrived, in what is now known as Massachusetts, a slave-trader had captured Tisquantum, along with a group of Native Americans, who were taken as captives to Europe. Tisquantum eventually wound up escaping and made his way to England where he learned English. He returned to the American continent in 1619.

As the Potawatomi site explains:

“While Tisquantum was overseas, New England’s Indigenous experienced a monumental death rate, with some communities losing nearly every tribal member to the decimating effects of European diseases.

“Upon returning to North American and his village of Patuset, Tisquantum found only piles of bones of his fellow tribesmen killed by the plagues. He realized he was the sole survivor of his village. The illness spread so quickly that many local tribes never had time to bury their dead.

“Where Tisquantum’s village once thrived, the Pilgrims established Plymouth Plantation.”

Tisquantum—escaped slave, sole survivor (because of his capture) of a village wiped out by a plague bequeathed by the Europeans—helped the newcomers learn how to live in their new land. In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their successful harvest that year, along with the Wampanoag, who apparently considered themselves allies of the new arrivals. But they weren’t. Instead, genocide ensued.

Wamsutta (Frank) James, a founder of the movement declaring Thanksgiving to be a National Day of Mourning for Native Americans, said in a 1970 speech: “We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end.”

All of which leads me back to the present moment, more or less. A day of thanks? A day of atonement?

As much as the human race has accomplished in the past several hundred thousand years, its evolution hasn’t yet created global social sanity. Despite cries of outrage from the political margins, geopolitical civilization essentially remains organized around the principle of war and conquest: Fragments of humanity are still trying to destroy one another. We’re at a point where our destructive power is so great that we’re on the brink of global suicide.

Sorry to bring this up just as the turkey’s being served. So let me try to find my way back into a spirit of thankfulness, as much as I can muster in the shadow of looming genocide. I am thankful that Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley recently doubled the number of U.S. senators calling for an Israeli ceasefire in the war—from one (Dick Durbin of Illinois) to two.

Merkley said:

“Most importantly, the Israeli people and the Palestinian people must find leaders determined to partner with each other and the world to replace the cycle of hate and violence with both a long-term vision for security, peace and prosperity featuring two states for two peoples, and immediate, concrete steps toward that goal.”

The “thanks” feel small, but the hope is enormous.

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Robert Koehler (koehlercw@gmail.com), syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor. He is the author of Courage Grows Strong at the Wound.

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 “Neoliberalism as economic theory was always an absurdity. It had as much validity as past ruling ideologies such as the divine right of kings and fascism’s belief in the Übermensch. None of its vaunted promises were even remotely possible. … But economic rationality was never the point. The point was the restoration of class power.”

– Chris Hedges

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